PALMDALE — Golden League football championships were almost an annual thing at Antelope Valley High through much in the 1980s and 1990s.
But hard times fell on the Antelopes in recent years as new schools in the district sapped enrollment and, by 1998, the team that had won the Southern Section Division II championship in 1994 and reached the final in 1995 couldn't even qualify for the playoffs.
All that was a distant memory on Friday night as Antelope Valley players formed a dogpile at midfield in celebration of a 9-3 victory over host Palmdale that clinched a share of their first league title since 1996.
"All I can say is that it's good to be a Golden League champion again," said Coach Brent Newcomb, who has battled through a 1997 heart attack and a combined 6-14-1 record in 1998 and 1999. "Things like this get 55% of your heart pumping,"
Unlike past seasons, when Antelope Valley could rely on superstars like Tommie Smith, Jermaine Lewis and Tony Walker, this was a team effort.
Quarterback Demetre Booker passed for 84 yards and rushed for 50, including a seven-yard touchdown run with 3:29 left to give Antelope Valley (8-1, 4-0 in league play) a 9-0 lead.
Fullback Sean Wallace gained 60 yards in 20 carries, chewing up small chunks of yardage as the Antelopes controlled the ball and the clock.
And the defense, the team's strength all season, held Palmdale's explosive offense to 265 yards.
Of course, Palmdale (6-2-1, 3-1) helped by fumbling three times, dropping several passes and committing untimely penalties.
"A lot of things went down," Coach Jeff Williams said. "We couldn't catch a cold tonight. This is a tough loss."
Tough for many reasons.
Quarterback Terry Furlow, who injured his left (non-throwing shoulder) in the first quarter, pulled himself in and out of the game through the final three quarters because of the pain. He completed nine of 21 passes for 117 yards, while backup Jacob McCravey completed six of 13 for 78 yards.
Tough because Emanuel Johnson fumbled into the end zone trying to reach the goal line on Palmdale's first possession, and Antelope Valley never let the Falcons get that close again.
Tough because after a 2-8 record in 1999, Palmdale had marched through the region's toughest schedule almost unblemished before falling in the one game it needed more than anything.
Because its maligned defense limited Antelope Valley to 245 yards and twice intercepted Booker, who had thrown only one interception in eight previous games.
In the end, all the Falcons could muster was a 38-yard field goal from Matthew Valentino with 56 seconds left and a failed on-side kick attempt.
Justin Lagos kicked a 20-yard field goal for Antelope Valley in the second quarter.
While Notre Dame, St. Francis, Hart, Valencia and Crescenta Valley have claimed supremacy in Division III this season, Antelope Valley has reeled off eight consecutive victories.
Now, the only thing separating the No. 4-ranked Antelopes from an outright league title and a seeding in the playoffs is a victory next week over last-place Highland.
"This means everything to me--it was the world," Booker said.